Disclaimer: While many know me as an author, I am also a professional editor with a specialized certificate from Cal State Berkeley. There are a lot–and I mean a lot–of people out there who claim to be editors because they think they are good at catching typos or know how to use spellcheck. I am well aware that Indie authors often cannot afford editors, so they go cheap. (I am guilty as charged!) This post is designed to save you the pain I repeatedly experienced before becoming a professional and learning what to look for in an editor. I do have to add that true editors do much more than catch errors. A strong editor can identify and correct weak prose, restructure sections, and improve flow. Since you really do get what you pay for, please take how much editing you need into consideration before entering a contract. In fact, if you can get a reputable editor to tell you up front if you need a light, medium, or heavy edit, you will have a much better perspective on how much you should spend.
Let’s be honest: all books, regardless of both how strong a writer’s talents may be, need editors. That said, hiring an editor does not guarantee a manuscript will be error-free, as not only are even the best editors human, many new editors lack the training and skills necessary to succeed. Several times I have received one of my books back from a highly-recommended editor, only to then bang my head against the wall while fixing obvious mistakes.
Having the ability to spot typos does not make a person an editor,
just like being an avid reader does not mean a person is author material.
Indie editors are much like Indie writers—some are skilled, some are not. Editors are also human and therefore will make mistakes, even though that goes against their job description; however, mistakes should be few and far between. So, how do you select an editor for your self-published book?
Screen An Editor Before Signing A Contract
This goes beyond asking for credentials. (An English degree, or lack thereof, is not an indicator of editorial skills.) Start your screening by reading something the person edited, be it an entire book or a simple blog post. If you still see that person as a candidate, ask for recommendations with contact information. I mention this because several people can say they have edited for me, but few can say they did it well. In some cases, my editors actually introduced errors. Thus, author recommendations are key.
If you still feel good about working with the editor, send that person a sample to edit. Since an editor’s job is to correct all errors, make sure the sample contains several grammatical errors along with a couple of factual ones. (Editors should research all facts, know how and when to reference sources, and have the knowledge to make style sheets.)
Sample errors to include:
- failure to close a quote
- misuse of punctuation
- sentence fragments
- use lay when you should use lie
- confuse further and farther
Also, slip in an error that a layman would miss. For example, the characters in my Rock and Roll Fantasy Collection are music fanatics. An editor missed that I typed Sgt. Pepper instead of Sgt. Pepper’s when referring to The Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. That mistake makes me, and my character, lose credibility.
- correct issues with spelling, grammar, flow, and word usage
- use tracking so you can review and approve changes
- research statistics and other data for accuracy
Editors should not:
- rewrite sentences in a way that compromises style or alters meaning
- make fact-based changes without queries
Indie authors and publishers are responsible for everything having to do with the product,
including the quality of work for hire.
For more resources, check out my post on how to self-edit, because even when using the most reputable editor, you should always review your final document before publishing.
If you are interested in becoming an editor, I highly recommend UC Berkeley Extension’s Professional Sequence In Editing Course. It takes about a year-and-a-half to complete, and while it certainly is not cheap, you will walk away ready to tackle even the trickiest manuscripts.